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Officials Hold Hearing On Immigrant Children In New York City

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) -- State officials held a public hearing Tuesday on what to do with thousands of migrant children who have fled violence and poverty in Central America.

State Assembly members heard from witnesses including the consul general of El Salvador in Manhattan and organizations that provide shelter, along with legal, medical and social services.

As 1010 WINS' Sonia Rincon reported, the immigration crisis has brought several thousand undocumented and unaccompanied Central American children into federal immigration court in Manhattan.

Officials Hold Hearing On Immigrant Children In New York City

The city's commissioner for immigration affairs, Nisha Agarwal, said the city is trying to connect the children with resources.

"As of last week, New York City has for the first time placed government representatives at the federal immigration court to provide services directly to the children," she said.

Agarwal told Rincon most children end up with family members -- about half on Long Island or in Yonkers, and they're likely here to stay.

That's why Lenny Benson, with New York Law School, said he told the Assembly panel the children need help navigating the legal system -- especially in the suburbs -- and integrating into local schools.

"The majority of children, when we say 'why are you coming to the United States,' after they say safety, they light up and say school," she said.

At the hearing, Jennifer Freedman, of the Pace Public Interest Law Center, told the Assembly panel the children need more access to legal help and mental health services.

She described one teenage boy's story of a dangerous journey over slippery rocks in the rain.

"The group he was with abandoned a teenage girl who slipped and injured her leg and was in too much pain to walk," she said. "He is plagued by thoughts of what might have happened to that girl."

Jeremy Kohomban heads the Children's Village, which has sheltered about 1,500 of the children in Harlem and in Westchester.

He testified that despite their horrific experiences, "They're optimistic, grateful to the United States and capable of integrating safely into our communities."

Across the country, immigration officials say about 90,000 youths could face detention and deportation. An estimated 3,000 are in New York state and as many as 7,000 more are expected this year.

New York City has formed a task force to tackle what City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito called "a humanitarian crisis.''

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